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1,000 Trayvons: All People of Color Must Unite to Stop the Slaughter

Gyasi Ross
7/30/13

I know this is sorta late—two weeks, to be exact—and that pop culture topics du jour tend to last only a few days. Modern day pop culture existential question: If someone gets killed on Twitter and it’s no longer trending, did it really happen?

I don’t know; that’s above my pay grade.

Still, one of my friends—a short Lakota woman—texted me right after the Seminole County jury acquitted George Zimmerman of all charges in the brutal killing of Trayvon Martin and asked, very appropriately, “How come the Native community is not outraged about this?”

I never responded—I’m sorry, Kim. But I was too caught up in emotion right after the verdict to really elicit a proper response. So this is my attempt to give a few rambling, stream-of-consciousness thoughts on the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Native media responses to pop culture phenomena like Martin (“Native media responses” must necessarily be separated from “Native responses,” because I find that most Native people who write in Native publications are very separated from the Native world that I live in, communicate in and work in every single day), and why we have a vested interest in partaking in the larger conversations like those surrounding the Martin tragedy.

THOUGHTS ON THE TRAYVON TRIAL

I’m conflicted. As an attorney I have to acknowledge that George Zimmerman getting acquitted was the correct legal result. In fact, this case probably should have never gone to trial. The way the Florida’s self-defense laws are written (and the barbaric “Stand Your Ground” law, which the defense chose to forego yet was clearly always there in the shadows), it essentially gives a license to kill as Zimmerman had "no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force" as long as he reasonably feared for his life or great bodily harm. The only thing left to show is that he was reasonably afraid—in the dark, on your own property, that’s pretty easy to do.

Legally, it was the correct decision.

Yet, as a father of a young man of color, I have to acknowledge that I think George Zimmerman should be hung. As an uncle and mentor to many, many boys of all colors, I have to acknowledge that I’d have to fight the compulsion to hunt this man down, rightly or wrongly, if he stole their young, vibrant lives like he did to Trayvon. There’s a mother and father who will never get to love, embrace, scold or chastise their precious boy again. He was 17, but as any parent knows, they’re always your baby.

George Zimmerman brutally and unnecessarily killed someone’s baby. And that’s unforgiveable.

NATIVE MEDIA RESPONSES TO THE TRAYVON TRAGEDY

The Native media responses to the Trayvon Tragedy, and other “non-Indian events” that profoundly affect Native people are very, very few and far between. And not necessarily for the right reasons. I saw a couple of stories by Native authors—one by Ruth Hopkins another by Jacqueline Keeler—that passionately talked about it. They are both mothers and I think that parents think about the loss of a child and are prompted to action. I also saw one from Oliver Semans who did a really good job of connecting how this case affects Indian country. But for the most part, if you scan the latest headlines of any of the Native publications, you’d pretty much think that this travesty didn’t happen. In fact, if someone were to look at a good portion of Native media they’d think that renaming the Redskins or mascots or hating Johny Depp’s rendition of Tonto were the top priorities to most Native people.

Outsiders looking into Native media and seeing those things—Tonto, mascots, etc—would likely say, “Gee, that’s all Native people have to worry about? I guess those casinos are working and their lives are pretty damn good. We have to worry about getting killed and the recession—all they have to worry about is Tonto.”

The truth is that most Native people don’t care about that stuff. When I’m at home on the reservation, no one talks about these things. When I’m at pow wows or on the canoe journey, no one asks me about these things.

They are academic issues; ultimately it’s good that someone covers them, but they are not conversations that come up regularly within Indian country despite appearances to the contrary. 

On the other hand, the Trayvon tragedy, unfortunately, hits much closer to home than those first-world problems. Like Trayvon and countless other young black men, our young Native men are literally dying, likewise falling victim to the presumption that brown men are always criminals, always doing something wrong. White supremacy. A few names come to mind—John T. Williams, Jack Keewatinawin, Daniel Tiger, Christopher Capps, Clinton Croff, AJ Longsoldier, the list goes on and on—their major crime was being Native. That’s why they are dead. Like Trayvon—he’s dead because he was black.

I read someone say that Native people’s “Trayvon Martin moment” was the recent Baby Veronica case. That statement is an insult to the dead and a curse to the living. Thank God that Baby Veronica is still alive—she is still with us, and that means that there’s still an opportunity for better outcomes. Trayvon Martin was brutally killed and unfortunately, there can be no good outcomes from it. Native people legitimately have many, many Trayvon Martin moments—we do not need to make them up. Do some research on any of the cases above—our people are getting killed out there.

To us within Native media: we should bring more attention to the tragedies that happen within our communities. They’re there. It’s up to us to bring those stories to light like the Black community did with Trayvon.

To our non-Native allies: there are a couple of legitimate reasons why there has been no critical mass of responses from the Native community—the “why should we” reason.

1) First, Native people have very little reason to have any amount of faith in the judicial system. From constantly seeing non-Natives acquitted for killing Native people (see the above names and multiply that by 1000), to the very foundational law of this Nation (read Johnson v. M'Intosh or Cherokee Nation v. Georgia or In the Courts of The Conqueruors by Walter Echohawk to begin to understand the profound lack of faith that Native people have and should have in US courts), we are used to getting screwed by the courts of the conquerors.

So why be outraged? In fact, it would be stranger for a Native person to expect a GOOD outcome from these courts. Unlike Black folks, Native people do not have a Brown v. Board of Education to hang our hopes on. These courts have been bad to us since day 1.

2) The other “why should we” is that there was no larger response from the Black community, the Hispanic community, the progressive community when that long litany of names, above, were killed by law enforcement for being Indian. So there is a sense of “Why should we contribute to this larger group of concerned citizens of color that doesn’t care about us?” Non-Native allies, you should help champion this message-it will help create this larger sense of community.

Not saying that this mindset is “right,” but it’s certainly understandable.

3) I suppose a third “why should we” reason is that, for the most part, Native people simply do not have the capacity to deal with someone else’s heartache. We have our own. Lots of it. If an entire block of houses are burning, everybody should absolutely help one another escape the fiery inferno. At the same time one could be excused for trying to make sure that his own family escaped the flames first.

All of our blocks are burning. It’s not that we don’t care—it’s that Native people, like others, have to save ourselves first.

But we are not isolated. It does not benefit us to simply put our collective heads in the sand and pretend that the Trayvon Tragedy or any of these larger pop culture movements do not affect us. They do. The Native media has to connect the dots and start working with other communities of color to stop our people from getting killed. That means stop pretending that these are isolated incidents and not things that we have to worry about.

Gyasi Ross is an enrolled member of Blackfeet and an activist, attorney and author.
 

 

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stevef's picture
I agree with the first part of your article. That the trial legally, probably was just a sham. Publicity stunt. I also agree, it was a horrible tragedy. I still find sad humor in that George is thrown under the bus by so many skins and 'poor Trayvon'. Is George less 'minority' than Trayvon? Would I have shot Trayvon........probably not. Being in law enforcement since about 1980 means I have made that 'shoot/don't shoot' decision a few time. But George can't be held to the same standard. I agree with the 'Stand your Ground' not for it's 'barbaric' nature, but for its ability to help that like my daughter who doesn't have my background or size. I also think you 'presume' George's guilt and does that make you racist against Hispanics? Do you know what happened that night? Did Trayvon jump him with MMA style fighting? Why are you disappointed that Indian country didn't pick the black over the Hispanic? Because we didn't jump on the band wagon with major media when they doctored audio tapes? The part I find the most humor in, while you, Sharpton, Jackson discuss 'hunting him down', George just saved some family? Have a great day, Steve
stevef
indianmedicine's picture
As stated, this Case should NOT have gone to Bar, but it did in response of "Political Correctness";rather then to the "Principal of Law"................................... ........................................................................................................................................ This was NOT a "Race Question", but it concerned to Ethnic Differences who by definition were Minority Ethnic Groups, and in a similar "Income Bracket" - which had nothing to do with economics............................................................................... ........................................................................................................................................ Yes, there should be "Outrage", but not because of a "Public Emotional Response and Politically Correct Thinking" - but for Deliberate With Holding Of Evidence by The Prosecution who was "Grand Standing" on this case....................................... ........................................................................................................................................ There was "Physical Evidence" withheld that was "Clear & Convincing" that Trayvon was not the "Squeaky Clean Victim" as portrayed; and fire arms were no stranger to his hands.................................................................................................................... ......................................................................................................................................... Trayvon and Zimmerman were "painted" for what they were not, and the Public Decided the Right & Wrong of the Question on "Hear Say Evidence"(Gossip) rather then factually substantiated by Clear & Convincing Evidence.................................. ......................................................................................................................................... I'm no fan of Mr. Zimmerman, and he got involved into a situation that may or may not have been handled differently................................................................................. .......................................................................................................................................... The "Stand Your Ground Law" came about due to "Home Invasions" and Victims afraid to defend Life & Limb because of possible Legal Consequences................ ........................................................................................................................................... These type Laws come about because "P E O P L E " are tired of being victimized by the Lawless and Bully's.............................................................................................. ........................................................................................................................................... This was not a "Race Question" as the Reverend Jackson & Sharp would have you believe............................................................................................................................... ............................................................................................................................................ It was a Question of the validity of "Stand Your Ground Laws" being adopted across the nation because people are tired of not having a Lawful Recourse to Combat Home Invasions, Assaults In Public, and Family's Personal Safety............................. ............................................................................................................................................. The term "brutal" is used in describing Trayvon's wounds;but if you ask a War Veteran; or a Homicide Investigator what "brutal wounds" are; you will get a different definition as used............................................................................................... ............................................................................................................................................. To me, "Brutal" translates to horrific wounds, that one sees in "Blunt Trauma Weapon Results", Edged Weapon Results, Sex Crimes directed at Children & Women, and yes Men too................................................................................................ ............................................................................................................................................ Attend an Homicide Autopsy, and I am sure that your definition of "Brutal" will change from "Word Play" to fact..................................................................................... ............................................................................................................................................. The Native Women in Canada that were kidnapped, brutalized and left for dead or permanently disfigured through acts of Mayhem fit the definition of "Brutal" in my eyes as a former Peace Officer...................................................................................... ............................................................................................................................................ Many unfortunately are naive as to Crimes Against Persons, and the "horrible suffering" that accompanies the term "brutal"............................................................... ............................................................................................................................................ I believe that term as used only "inflames emotions" compared to other Victims..... ............................................................................................................................................ I would suggest that the Native Sovereign Nations also In- Act "Stand Your Ground Laws" on their Reservations and Properties; and NOT fall for "Word Play" or "Feel Good Interpretations of Law............................................................................................. ............................................................................................................................................. Regardless of Ethnic makeup, you have a Universal Right of Self Defense of your Self,your Family,your Property, or Another in the face of Imminent Danger................ ............................................................................................................................................. You should be asking your Counsels, Elders, Tribal Police for Lawful Guidance on this Question in regards to your "Legal & Moral Rights" as a Citizen where ever you are........................................................................................................................................ ..............................................................................................................................................
indianmedicine
forbiss's picture
@BigIndianGyasi fails yet again in an overwrought attempt to carry forward what he mistakenly presumes to be a NA narrative. Kudos to commenters stevef and indianmedicine for their talents of discernment and capacity to "nail it." BTW, assertions in last paragraph, "We are not isolated." and "Native media has to ...start working with other communities of color..." bring to mind the secession of National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) from the coalition Unity: Journalists of Color, refusing the invitation extended by President Rhonda Vivaldo to its annual conference--ended just last week. Reaction to this dissolution prompted comment by bearclaw (Indianz.com) who parodied Southern segregationist George Wallace, "Segregation yesterday, segregation today, segregation forever!" Check with Ms. Vivaldo. Here's another parody: "Do we really have a rez dog in this hunt?"
forbiss
hammertime's picture
I think the natives are smarter than to get sucked into this debate... there is a lot of propaganda and lies involved in this whole mess...lies are lies and it does not matter which race is telling them to promote their adgenda.... Instead of being so enraged that a spanish man shot a black man who was beating the hell out of him, Maybe everyone ought to march for the thousands of young black kids that have murdered one another since the shooting of travon martin.... You dont see Jackson or others trying to make political hay out of all these dead children.... They are having black expo in Indianapolis next week... I am sure that we will have a decent body count and lots of shootings that cannot be blamed on anyone but themselves. will there be any marches after that shoot out??...
hammertime
tmsyr11's picture
It would be GREAT to read the writer's appeal for uniting to combat the unwarranted=needlessly killings, murders of young warrior indian men/women by other young warrior indian men. These warrior men and their families are victimized by such tragedies that impacts the community, town, and tribe. Stabbings, shootings, drunk driving, drug overdose, suicides, etc. Could the writer make head-waves to prevent ONE or TWO indian men/women from tragically losing their lives - one death, one incarceration. Unfortunate because too many of these nameless "MEN" "WOMEN" (15 years, 16, 17, 18....) go un-noticed in progressive native articles and/or native "indigenous" rants against colonial agression. Do we take care of our own before we tell others how to live? Cobbell was probably the last time an indian appeal was made to this current active US President for White House intervention into indian affairs. If the active President can intercede into social events he deems worthy, why can't the writer appeal for people of color to unite in appealing to Barack Obama progressive indian causes? THere are plenty issues more than all fingers, toes combined. This President made many, many PROMISES to indian county that he has yet to fulfill, but continues to excel in recognizing other illegitiate SPECIAL INTERESTS. Does the writer know there MAY BE clauses (one or two) that legally PROTECT an indian by the US Govt against bad white man? 565+ Indian treaties/indian agreements. How often is this treaty cited in town courts, municipal courts, state courts, federal courts? With as much as the "IDLE NO MORE" movement was around based on pure indian emotions and words, six (06) months later - indian people have FOREGOTTEN the name, powwow movement, occupy movement, indian spring movement, etc.
tmsyr11
ivon1's picture
Stevef, George Z has publically acknowledged that he considers and identifies himself to be White, despite his Hispanic roots. That lets you know that he is in conflict with himself. He hates who he is. If he doesn't like himself, what do you think his opinion is of any other male of color? Bottom line, Florida laws need to change. It doesn't make sense, that a person could provoke an altercation, the other person gets the upper hand and the person who started it is allowed to shoot to kill. This was a bogus trial. Pretty much what you would expect in Florida.
ivon1
stevef's picture
Ivon, ....is that the Terrible? lol I love your lack of logic that if he identifies himself as white, that makes him a racist SOB? As far as the law, you and I disagree with the need for a self defense law. I don't know if George provoke it or if Trayvon did? I have heard conflicting testimony on that fact. I wasn't there. I agree the trial was bogus, but for a different reason...the trial should have never taken place....there was a lack of evidence of 'Probably Cause' to believe a crime took place .....truth be known, if I heard it right, there was more evidence that Trayvon committed 'Assault' ...but sadly, he was dead. We could get into the entire debate of 'what is Indian / white / Hispanic. Blood quantum .....'identifies'?.....I for one still consider George a fellow minority. No better, ...no worse than Trayvon...both fellow minorities. If Jackie Robinson 'identified himself as 'white', could he have just walked onto the baseball field?
stevef
Tim Marshall's picture
well, it would seem that one of your own is a traitor. a petty race baiter. a man who puts the collective before his own. to equate the martin thug incident with anything to do with the history of natives is shameful! at some point, those that would subtract the 2nd amendment from the list of personal rights need to be illuminated for what they are, people that don't want interference!! get with it, when the gov't takes away your ability to protect yourself, they'll start with minorities!!!
Tim Marshall
Tim Marshall's picture
gyasi is a bigot, very simple. the idea that you would look at this trayvon case and then agree with ANYTHING the race baiters say, outs you as a simpleton.
Tim Marshall
Tim Marshall's picture
so, gyasi thinks "the people", "his people" should join with the other whiners to destroy society and the rule of law, but the nations don't even have someone on staff to read this comments page. i know it's sunday morning, but, surely you can get someone to man the internets!!!! hey gyasi ross, use some of your lawyering money to pay 1 guy to be administrator, the internets are a 24/7 deal, join the world so this site doesn't look so weak!!!!!!!!!
Tim Marshall

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